A robotic drone that can travel through air and water, and also attach itself to larger objects with a suction cup, could be useful for tagging wild animals, say its creators.
The suction cup is inspired by the remora fish, which attaches itself to larger marine creatures in a symbiotic relationship where the remora eats parasites that would irritate its host and also gets a ride in return.
“My original thought was ‘let’s find a point where we can beat nature’,” says Li Wen at Beihang University in Beijing. “Let’s do a robot that can not only swim and stick underwater, but also can fly into the air and stick in the air. I don’t think there are any animals that can do this.”
Wen and his colleagues created a 3D-printed replica of a remora fish suction pad. The small rubber-like pad has a segmented layout that can create a tight seal even when part of the pad isn’t in contact with a surface.
Wen says he was also inspired by the way that kingfishers can fly into water and catch prey, folding their wings as they hit the surface. The drone’s rotors have hinged blades that automatically fold and unfold as the RPM is changed between the high speeds needed for air flight and the lower speeds that work more efficiently in water.